Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Message in a Bottle: A Fall Picnic (Sailboat Optional)

Background: Theresa Osborne is a newspaper columnist living in Boston. One morning as she's jogging on the beach in Cape Cod, she happens upon a bottle in the sand. Upon closer examination she discovers a note inside, a sad love letter from "Garrett" to "Catherine." She decides to print the letter in her column, and learns that other people have found similar letters in bottles to Catherine from Garrett. After doing some digging she tracks him down to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and decides to travel there to meet him. After all, she's been divorced for three years, she's a little lonely, and who knows? From his letters Garrett Blake seems to be a sensitive and caring person, and he might be available. When they finally meet, Garrett and Theresa hit it off right away and Garrett invites Theresa to go sailing with him that evening on Happenstance, the boat that he and his deceased wife restored together. What does this have to do with food, you ask? Well, Theresa accepts Garrett's invitation, and volunteers to bring a picnic supper--sandwiches, coleslaw, and potato salad. Now, Theresa was only in town for a visit, and staying in a motel nearby, so she probably went to the local Food Lion and picked up dinner at the deli. This wouldn't be much of a blog if I did the same thing, so I decided to pack a picnic lunch like the one Theresa brought, except I made everything myself. We took our picnic to a local park. Of course, I had some help--from Rachael Ray, Fine Cooking Magazine, and my mother-in-law.

Rachael Ray's Italian Sandwiches:

Ciabatta bread, sliced
1 container store-bought pesto
1/4 pound sliced salami
1/4 pound sliced provolone
1/4 pound sliced turkey
1/4 pound sliced mortadella
Iceberg lettuce, torn into leaves
Plum tomato, sliced

Slather bread slices with the pesto. Build your sammie by placing a couple slices each of salami, provolone, turkey and mortadella. Top with lettuce leaves, sliced tomato and another slice of bread. Cut diagonally across sandwich to make 2 triangles. (source)

We can still get fresh local tomatoes--I don't usually see the plum variety, but last Saturday they must have been put there just for me!

Our local artisan baker had run out of ciabatta, so I got a nice sourdough instead.

I'd never heard of mortadella before I found this recipe. It's kind of like bologna with stuff in it--like olive loaf, only better. The one I found at the deli had pistachios.

Classic Potato Salad (courtesy of my favorite magazine, Fine Cooking)

For the dressing

1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbs. Champagne vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the salad

1/4 cup plain rice vinegar
Kosher salt
3-1/2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed clean
3 large hard-boiled eggs, diced
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced celery (include the leaves, roughly chopped)
1 cup small-diced sweet onion
3 Tbs. capers

Make the dressing

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.

Make the salad

Combine the rice vinegar and 2 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Let sit to dissolve the salt. Put the potatoes and 2 Tbs. salt in a 6-quart pot and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook the potatoes until barely tender when poked with a fork or skewer, 20 to 25 minutes. If the potatoes aren't all the same size, remove them as they are cooked. Gently drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside until just cool enough to handle. Using a paring knife, peel the potatoes by scraping off the skin. Cut the potatoes into 3/4-inch chunks. Add the potatoes to the bowl with the vinegar and gently stir with a spatula to coat. With your fingers, pull apart any pieces that are stuck together. When the potatoes have completely cooled, gently fold the eggs, celery, onion, and capers into the potatoes. Fold in enough dressing to generously coat the potatoes (you may not need all of the dressing). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate until cool. (source)

My mother-in-law, or "Grandma B" as we like to call her, makes a delicious coleslaw, and she doesn't use any mayo or Miracle Whip or anything like that. In fact, when we've come to their house for a visit, our oldest has been known to request it. Now, Grandma B has a few family recipes that she has shared with me and my sister-in-law that we've been instructed NEVER to give to ANYONE, but luckily she got her coleslaw recipe years ago from a co-worker.


3 cps sugar

1½ cups vinegar

1½ cups water

1 large spoon prepared mustard

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon oregano

¼ cup salad oil

½ teaspoon whole celery seed

Mix well place in sealed container and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using.

I shredded the cabbage and made the dressing the night before (and halved the recipe), and put the slaw together right before the picnic. It wasn't as yummy as hers, but it was still good. And Moe, who has food allergies and normally can't eat coleslaw, can eat this one. Not that he would, mind you; we encouraged him to try just one bite, but he wasn't interested.

Garrett provided the Coke and 7up for the picnic. Of course, he had no idea that Theresa had found his letter to Catherine or that she had come to North Carolina specifically to meet him. They had a lovely evening together, and thus began their romance.

We didn't go sailing, but we did take a walk through the park to this lovely little creek,

and the kids pushed each other on the tire swing. Right after they ate. No one got sick, thank goodness.

Up next: Garrett Blake's Grilled Steak.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Biscuit Do-Over: Success!

Recently on a busy weeknight I decided to cook "Breakfast-For-Dinner." What was on the menu? Why, biscuits and bacon, of course! My oven worked perfectly this time, and the biscuits turned out just right. A little bacon and some fruit on the side made a quick and delicious meal. Noah and Allie would be proud--they were a busy couple of kids, those two, after all.

For the story of my burnt biscuits and too-salty chicken, click here.

One slight correction--in my last post I told you that my mother got the recipe from her Betty Crocker cookbook. Actually, it was a Better Homes and Gardens one. The error has been corrected, and I apologize to anyone who consulted Betty Crocker and didn't find it. (Not that anyone did; I can probably count on one hand how many people read this blog...and many thanks to those who do stop by!)

This weekend we'll be packing a picnic basket with love (a la Message in a Bottle), and hopefully a blog post will follow very soon after.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Notebook: Fried Chicken 'n Biscuits

If you're looking for a low fat, low salt, low calorie meal, you've come to the wrong place. In The Notebook, the two starry-eyed lovers Noah and Allie reunite after twelve years apart. (you can read my summary of the book here.) After spending a blissful night together, they cook biscuits and bacon for breakfast, and fried chicken and more biscuits for lunch. Personally, I didn't think biscuits and bacon was worthy of an entire blog post, especially since that's something we often cook at home on leisurely weekend mornings. And because this blog is partly for me to branch out and try new things, I knew making real fried chicken--not the oven-fried variety, which is a no-brainer--would be a challenge in and of itself, because I've never actually tried it. I'm always worried about undercooking the chicken and giving everyone salmonella. For me anyway, I've felt I'd have a better idea of how long chicken needs to cook (for pieces, that's about an hour at 350 degrees) and I didn't think I had the confidence to try frying it. I also wanted to try a different biscuit recipe. I usually follow the one in my favorite cookbook, The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook; for this challenge I called my mother for her recipe. She sent me one from her 1962 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook she's had since she married. (Mom says that it saved her life because she didn't know how to cook when she married; I can't imagine why because her mother was an amazing cook, and Mom is too!) I also decided to revisit the sauteed vegetables from my last post, minus the okra and mushrooms, and give it a little twist--bacon. (I didn't want it to feel left out, after all.) Since I'd never fried a chicken before, who better to call on for help but Paula Deen? Here's her recipe I used: 3 eggs 1/3 cup water About 1 cup hot red pepper sauce (recommended: Texas Pete) 2 cups self-rising flour 1 teaspoon pepper House seasoning, recipe follows 1 (1 to 2 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into pieces Oil, for frying, preferably peanut oil Directions In a medium size bowl, beat the eggs with the water. Add enough hot sauce so the egg mixture is bright orange. In another bowl, combine the flour and pepper. Season the chicken with the house seasoning. Dip the seasoned chicken in the egg, and then coat well in the flour mixture. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a deep pot. Do not fill the pot more than 1/2 full with oil. Fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp. Dark meat takes longer then white meat. It should take dark meat about 13 to 14 minutes, white meat around 8 to 10 minutes. House Seasoning: 1 cup salt 1/4 cup black pepper 1/4 cup garlic powder Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months. (source) Other than a little too much of the seasoning on the chicken--I had a lot of it left over and would have had even more--it turned out delicious, even if it was a little salty.

Since Moe is allergic to eggs I took a few tablespoons of Egg Replacer mix and added a little water until it was about the consistency of egg. It worked just fine.

Here's the biscuit recipe from my mother's 1962 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook:

Biscuits Supreme

2 cups Sifted all-purpose flour

4 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. Cream of Tartar

2 tsp. Sugar

½ cup shortening

2/3 cup milk

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar, and sugar; cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk all at once; stir only till dough follows fork around bowl. Turn out on lightly floured surface; knead gently ½ minute. Pat or roll ½ inch thick; cut with biscuit cutter (Cut straight down; do not twist). Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in very hot oven (450o) 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 16 medium biscuits. Mom's note: I use dry milk for all of my baking, adding 1/3 cup (per cup) right after I cut in the shortening. Then, you just add 2/3 c. water. For this recipe, just use the whole 1/3 cup.

(Sharon's note: Moe is allergic to milk, but only slightly; I used half soy milk and half real milk in these biscuits.)

I guess this is what "follows fork around bowl" looks like.

I don't have a biscuit cutter; I always use the outside part of my Pampered Chef Measure-all cup. I'm not sure why the recipe says to cut straight down and not twist, but I did my best. Of course, this was the day my oven's thermostat decided not to work properly causing the oven to overheat and burn the biscuits! Luckily I rescued them while they were still edible; the boys liked them because they were doughy in the middle. (The oven has worked just fine since. Go figure.)

For the vegetables, I halved and sliced a medium-sized onion, diced up a jumbo-sized carrot (this made about a cup of chopped carrot) and chopped a medium-sized zucchini. I fried 4 slices of bacon and set them aside, drained the excess fat, and added a little olive oil to the pan. Once the olive oil was hot, I added the onions and carrots and sautee'd them until they started to get soft, then added the zucchini. I had some Emeril's Essence on hand and threw in a couple of tablespoonfuls of that. (You can see my first attempt at this for my crab feast here; putting in more seasoning definitely helped. You can make the seasoning yourself--here's the recipe--and I think I've seen it in the spice aisle as well.)

Once the vegetables were cooked, I crumbled up the bacon and mixed it in. My husband convinced the boys to try them, saying they didn't tase like vegetables but like bacon instead. I wouldn't go so far as that but the bacon really made a big difference.

Just look at the size of these carrots at the farmers' market! I love using fresh local produce.

Don't forget the veggies! Of course I HAD to make mashed potatoes to serve with them. The boys said I forgot the gravy, because after all, gravy ALWAYS comes with the mashed potatoes when we bring it home from Popeye's or KFC.

So the biscuit is a little brown. Next time I make biscuits I'll use my mother's recipe again, and hopefully they'll cook properly. They should go great with bacon.

My next project: a fall picnic. I was hoping to do that this weekend but I don't think I'm going to have time. I promise to bring that to you soon, though, while the weather is still warm enough for picnicking.